How to Use Smart Albums in Photos for Mac

Keep your photo collection organized automatically

Female photo editor reviewing digital photo proofs on computer in office
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Smart albums are like normal albums, but they are automatically kept current by the Photos app. They work because of a set of rules you dictate, and they update automatically as you add more photos to your collection. Smart Albums prove to be helpful if you also use an iPhone to take pictures and iCloud to sync them across all Apple devices.

This article applies to Photos 2 and higher.

How to Create a Smart Album on Your Mac

It’s easy to create a smart album using Photos on your Mac.

  1. Select New Smart Folder under the File menu in Photos.

    The keyboard shortcut is Option+Command+N.

    New Smart Album in Photos for Mac
  2. Alternatively, click the plus sign next to My Albums in the side panel and select Smart Album.

    Smart Album option in the My Albums menu in Photos for Mac
  3. Type a name in the Smart Album Name field to help you find it later.

    Smart Album dialogue box in Photos for Mac
  4. You'll set criteria for the Smart Album using the three menus below the album name.

    The first menu says Photo by default. Other choices include Album, Date, Description, Filename, Keyword, Person, Photo, Text, Title. You can also set this item to Aperture, Camera Model, Flash, Focal Length, ISO, Lens, and Shutter Speed.

    The contents of the other two menus may change depending on what you select in this one.

    First set of Smart Album criteria in Photos for Mac
  5. The middle option is the conditionals box. Use this to help define your Smart album search criteria. The contents of this menu change depending on what you choose in the first one. For example, if you chose Photo, the options in this box are is and is not.

    Conditions box in a Smart Album
  6. The third menu is where you set the terms for Photos to search for to include or exclude images for the album. It also changes depending on what you chose for the first option. In the example with Photos, the options include types of photos (e.g., selfies and screenshots) and different options (e.g., hidden, marked as a favorite, etc.).

    Third menu in Smart Album criteria
  7. Click the plus sign to add more filters.

    Adding more search options may pull fewer results–or none at all.

  8. When you have multiple search terms, a Match menu will appear above the conditions you set. This is where you choose to match any or all of the criteria.

    Smart Album search filters
  9. Click the minus button to remove a search set.

  10. As you create search criteria, a count will appear in the lower-left corner of the window that shows how many results the folder will include.

  11. Click OK to create the smart album.

  12. Find your Smart Folder either on the Albums screen or nested under My Albums in the left pane.

    Smart Album in Photos for Mac

Editing Smart Albums

You can edit Smart Albums once you have created them. Select the album in the sidebar and choose Edit Smart Album under the File menu.

Alternatively, right-click the album either in the Albums window or the left pane, and select Edit Smart Album.

Edit Smart Album option in Photos for Mac

The familiar conditions browser window will appear, and you can alter or delete conditions you have set until you get the Smart Album working the way you want it to. Click OK to save your changes.